Katy Railroad helped shape a growing region

Self-described railroad buff and author Mike Landis is the featured speaker at this weekend’s 2019 Spring Train Show, the event hosted annually by the Ozarks Model Railroad Association.

Michael Landis

Michael Landis (Photo: Submitted photo)

Landis, a former journalist with KY3 and current public information officer for the city of Republic, debuts his new documentary during his presentation: “Katy’s Country” is rife with 75 minutes of video and photo footage of the Katy Railroad, the rail company and its history of particular focus for Landis.

“I guess ‘buff’ is an understatement; maybe (it’s) an obsession,” said Landis of his enchantment with trains and the Katy Railroad, the eventual front-running moniker for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, or “MKT” and ‘the K-T’ at one time or another, since its initial completion in 1871.

“I worked on different projects on my own over the years, related to history, particularly railroads. I worked on mostly film documentaries” and that led to “Show-Me Katy,” Landis said of his coffee-table style book on the railroad that came out last year.

In “Show-Me Katy,” Landis touts the railway as the one of the most scenic in the Midwest, highlighting the hill, valley, waterway and prairie-strewn route between Parsons, Kansas, Sedalia and St. Louis, with side trips on branch lines to El Dorado Springs, Moberly and Columbia.

Landis tells of how the tracks helped shape a growing region and the importance they played in being adjacent to the communities they served from 1870 to the railroad’s demise in the 1980s.

The 176-page book is complete with 300 photographs of freight trains traveling the countryside and the towns along its tracks, including depots, terminals and more. Landis interviews former MKT employees for his project as well.

“Show-Me Katy” preceded “Katy’s Country,” Landis’ film that focuses on the northern Ozarks rails and associated towns.

“At this point, the railroad’s been abandoned for almost 30 years and is (now) a real popular biking path, but a lot of that history has been lost. One of my goals is to try to preserve that,” said Landis, who spent much of his childhood in Sedalia, which was on the Katy Railroad.  

“I lived very close to the Katy tracks; they were a couple of blocks away from where I lived,” Landis said. “Being a little kid in the ‘80s, obsessed with trains, every time the train would go by, every day, I’d run out into the middle of the street and watch the train, and I’d get yelled at by my mom to get out of the street.”

“I witnessed the Katy Railroad, as a kid, in operation, and I was there when the trains stopped running and years later when they took up the tracks and made the trail. I witnessed the very end of it,” Landis said.

“When I was doing my book, I did my best to visit every single town along the way. I visited some towns where I would stand in the same spot (where) a picture was taken 30 or 40 years ago, and it looked identical except for the rails being gone. I was kind of amazed how much small-town life doesn’t change a lot in some places.”

Story by Ann Keyes for the news-leader.com

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